Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sumer, Akkad, and Babylon (3500-1700 BC)

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers both begin in the mountains of Anatolia and flow southeast about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) before emptying into the Persian Gulf. Tradition refers to this area as “Mesopotamia” which simply means “Between Rivers.”

According to archaeologists, people in southeastern Mesopotamia began to build cities as early as 3500 BC. Tradition calls these people Sumerians and their civilization was the first in Olympia. They developed cuneiform, Olympia’s first system of writing, around 3300. They also invented the wheel, the plow, sailboats, a 12-month lunar calendar, and a base 60 (vs. our base 10) numbering system from which we get 60-second minutes, 60-minute hours, and circles of 360 degrees.

By 3000 BC several powerful municipal states had developed in Sumer. At the center of each state stood a temple known as a ziggurat. We might describe a ziggurat as a terraced pyramid. A grand staircase enabled priests to walk from the ground to the home of the god at the top of the ziggurat. Only the high priest could enter it. The large public square surrounding the ziggurat provided the focal point for all of each city’s major activities.

Around 2300 BC a man named Sargon ruled a central Mesopotamian people known as the Akkadians. He led his army southeast against each Sumerian municipal state until, one by one, he took control of them all. By doing so he established Olympia’s first empire.

One of the most important cities of Sumer was Ur. Abraham was born there around 2000 BC. At the time of his birth, Ur was located near both the coast of the Persian Gulf and the mouth of the Euphrates River. Today the coastline has moved about 156 miles (250 km) southeast of the ruins of Ur.

By 1900 BC, a group of people known as Amorites migrated into central Mesopotamia. They built their own city on the Euphrates and called it Babylon. Hammurabi, a ruler of Babylon, led his army against those of Akkad and Sumer and defeated them. He became ruler of the first Babylonian empire by 1790 BC. He is most famous for the impressive code of law which he had published in 1770 BC. One stone upon which this code was carved, standing 7.4 feet (2.25 m), is on display in the Louvre.

Early municipal states were ruled by men who functioned as both king and priest. The most famous of these early rulers is Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest existing fragments of which date back to about 2000 BC, is Olympia’s oldest surviving written story.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.